The Vikings found plenty of answers Sunday against the 49ers, pulling off one of the biggest upsets in recent memory.
1. Yes, Christian Ponder is good enough to win games.
The stats for Ponder say “game manager” but if you watched the game you know he did more than just manage it. Ponder made plays. He made more plays than Alex Smith and that’s the big reason the Vikings won the game. The tentativeness that has plagued Ponder at times was mostly not present against San Francisco. He was decisive. You could argue he was even a little reckless at times but he got away with it. His second touchdown to Kyle Rudolph certainly had the potential to backfire. Rudolph was covered, but Ponder tossed it to him and trusted him to make the play. The second-guessing comes in because Adrian Peterson was literally uncovered in the end zone a few yards from Rudolph and Ponder didn’t see him. Had Rudolph not made the catch Ponder would be getting hammered right now for his poor vision. Clearly he was locked in on Rudolph but when you have that much trust in a guy it’s okay to lock in on him. And Rudolph has shown that he can make the play more often than not. Ponder now knows he has a guy he can throw it to in those tight, crucial situations and just let him make a play. That trust is huge between a quarterback and a tight end or wide receiver. Hopefully Ponder can develop similar chemistry with some of his other targets. Maybe Jerome Simpson who has the potential to make a lot of tough catches. Guys aren’t always going to be open and you need a QB who’s willing to throw it into small windows. But until he trusts the guy to make the catch, he’s not going to feel comfortable doing that. It was fun watching Ponder execute those little touch passes to receivers who weren’t wide open. He knows that you don’t always have to stick it in. He also made a huge play running the ball, taking advantage of an opening in the defense to run it straight up the field into the end zone. That’s the extra dimension Ponder brings. When he tries to run, he actually can run. It’s clear he’s never going to be the big-armed mad bomber but as long as he can play like Sunday it won’t matter. But it can’t be too conservative like it was against Indianapolis. There’s a difference between being prudent and being uptight. It’s okay to sometimes take a chance even if you get burned.
2. Yes, the Vikings offensive line can get physical.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Vikings’ line manhandled the 49ers but they did show more physicality than we’ve seen from them in the past. That has been Leslie Frazier’s big thing with both his offensive and defensive lines. Getting physical with opponents. The Vikings aren’t trying to play finesse football here, they’re trying to play smash mouth. And to do that you have to, you know, smash people in the mouth. Sunday the Vikings actually seemed more physical than San Francisco. The 49ers didn’t get to Christian Ponder too much and when the Vikings needed to run they were able to run. It wasn’t pretty but it worked. That’s the formula Leslie Frazier and Bill Musgrave are going for. It only works if guys are willing to strap it on and on Sunday the Vikings strapped it on. And yes Tom Pelissero, we hear you taking credit for it. Don’t get too full of yourself okay?
3. No, the Vikings’ defense is still not very good.
You look at it and say, “Well they held the purported best team in the league to 13 points. Must’ve been a good defensive effort.” Yes and no. Most of the problems we’ve seen still showed up in this game. They were still way too soft in coverage, leaving huge open spaces for receivers to operate. They still didn’t get enough of a rush from their front four, forcing them to come with blitzes which only compounds the coverage issues. They did tackle pretty well though, and that kept San Francisco from gouging them in the run game. Thing you have to ask is, why didn’t San Fran take a couple deep shots? What’s the point of having Randy Moss if you’re not going to at least try to hit him down the field? San Francisco thought they could play conservative and beat the Vikings, and they were wrong (they really only took one deep shot to Vernon Davis, getting him matched-up one-on-one with Jamarca Sanford, otherwise it was all underneath). Their game plan played into the Vikings’ hands. The Vikings always try to take away the deep stuff and make you dink-and-dunk them to death, and where they get in trouble is when their coverage breaks down or they don’t tackle. Sunday they were pretty clean in those areas and they didn’t commit dumb penalties. The defense still has issues but at least they didn’t make life worse for themselves with dumb mistakes. And they made big plays when they needed them. Josh Robinson picked off a completely befuddled Alex Smith, and later Jared Allen made a huge strip-sack to end the game. Chad Greenway played another monster game and Antoine Winfield was also very good. Still, you’d like to see more from the front four and you’d like to see them at least try some press coverage now and then instead of giving every receiver a huge cushion. The lack of trust in Chris Cook is glaring. You have to wonder if Cook isn’t destined to be benched in favor of A.J. Jefferson who has some press skills. The Vikings played well enough on defense to win this game but they will face much more potent offenses down the road and will have to get some of this other stuff sorted out. I still have no faith in their pass defense.
4. Yes, Jim Harbaugh is the most annoying person on the face of the earth.
Jim Harbaugh will do anything to win, including working the clueless replacement refs like a loan agency working Bryant McKinnie. Harbaugh actually convinced these morons that if he calls a time out then challenges they should give him the time out back. Don’t bother knowing the rules, replacement refs. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame Harbaugh for doing this. If he were the coach of my team and he pulled this stuff I’d think he was a genius. But that doesn’t make the man any less annoying. Seriously Jim, just calm down over there. Yeah, the refs made bad calls. Kyle Rudolph probably should’ve gotten flagged for offensive interference on the second touchdown. Is that any reason to almost snap yourself in half with your angry gesticulations? Take a pill dude. It’s just a football game. You lost this time. Swallow it and move on.
5. Yes, Randy Moss is done.
The end of the line has come for Randy Moss. Sure, there’s still some guy named Randy Moss out there playing football, but he’s not THE Randy Moss. THE Randy Moss evaporated sometime between his record breaking season with New England and his tantrum over Gus Tinucci’s catering. Now there’s just this ghost Randy Moss out there catching short little passes and drifting out of bounds. So what? Michael Jenkins can do that. If Randy Moss wants to play out the string as a #4 receiver for a winning team, I suppose that’s fine. Maybe he’s happy with that. Maybe he won’t flip out over being basically benched in the second half Sunday. Maybe he’s found a new peace in his life and he doesn’t need to be the man anymore. Like I said, he’s not THE Randy Moss. THE Randy Moss would’ve disappeared from the sideline with about five minutes left in the game. This Randy Moss sits there alone and impassive, lost in his own thoughts. Maybe he’ll get to be a hero somewhere down the line for San Francisco but it just seems like they have other guys they trust more. And frankly I’m not convinced that Alex Smith is the guy to make that happen. He didn’t play a good game Sunday. Christian Ponder was the better quarterback in that game and it wasn’t close. Like I was saying, if Randy’s fine being this guy, then God bless him. But as far as I’m concerned THE Randy Moss is gone. And I will miss him.